Thursday, September 9, 2010

Epilogue: 9 September 2010: Leap and the Net Will Appear.

A month back on solid ground and as suggested by fellow rider Sarah I am participating in a commemorative "jersey day". I am pictured in a storage unit full of books that I am sorting for online sales as well as for a weekend book sale to benefit our UU church in Belfast.

I have been immersed in ride photos that I took as well as the 4000 plus taken by Mike Munk. The benefit of passing time has given me the perspective I need to pare the lot down to a manageable size. Neither my friends nor the local groups for whom I am doing presentations want to sit through hours of pictures and with distance I am able to distinguish the really splendid from those that can perish in obscurity. Waves of delight and nostalgia wash over me as I go through the pics-- exhaustion, tedium and demoralization don't show up at all. Every turn and bend in the road looks enticing, the open plains are enchanting and the hills look far less formidable than they did when I started toiling up them weeks ago.

Negative impressions? Our nation is seeing tough times and will continue to do so for years. The factory farming of beef and hogs is appalling as is the dominance of corn and soybeans-- most of which go to feed the cattle and hogs. The careless disregard of resources bothered me a great deal-- there were never ways to recycle drink bottles or newspapers, water is being sucked out of the rivers to irrigate otherwise arid lands, the towns have been drained of their vibrancy while around cities one finds with miles of parking lots and huge stores, the convenience stores and restaurants are flooded with cheap and unhealthy food and the evidence of our addiction to oil is most discouraging.

Leaving aside the big picture, however, there was plenty of bliss-- the lovely early mornings, the sweet silent freedom of two wheels, the superb scenery of the West, and the quiet beauty of the high desert. There was the supportive care of the "A Team" , the best group of t staff conceivable and there were the other riders-- fifty days in which fifty strangers became friends. People we saw morning and evening and in passing throughout the day-- fifty people who came together to share the crazy dream of cycling from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It wasn't all gorgeous and it wasn't all fun, but it was all part of the whole and I, at least, drew much support from the strength of the group.

In the weeks before the ride many people questioned whether such a trip made sense and John and I were both plagued with self-doubt. We didn't let our worries paralyze us-- we trained, made arrangements to get ourselves and our bikes out to Oregon and stifled the sinking feelings that attacked us in the middle of the night. Day followed day and one morning we found ourselves cycling out of the hotel parking lot in Astoria and heading east. How did I make it?

I leapt and the net did appear.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 50: Manchester to Rye, NH

Drank a drop too much wine last night at the banquet so got up feeling just slightly off kilter but I drank lots of orange juice and came around very quickly. Not sad to think that it was the last of 54 nights in a hotel but choked up several times during the ride as I realized that it really was coming to an end. My spells of sadness receded every time we hit another hill-- and there were plenty of them even though the ride was relatively short (about 58 miles with only 2500 feet of climbing). Sort of amazing that the hills never seemed to get easy despite the many that I managed to drag myself up. Next week I will try some of my local hills and see if they give me less trouble than they did when I was training.

I was in good time for a traditional last group gathering at "Me and Ollie's", a bakery and coffee shop in Exeter and knowing that we had only about 12 miles to ride left us all relaxed and convivial. When we reluctantly broke up for the final leg to the middle school in Rye where we would convene for the final bit of the ride, we were all torn between happy and sad. By the time we got to Rye it was hot and humid but we suffered through a group picture session, endured the waiting while the police escort was organized and had the inevitable very last minute flat (not mine, thank goodness) which was fixed in just a couple of minutes by Jim, our fabulous mechanic.

The honor of riding first on the way to the beach fell to the four slowest riders-- me, Ian, Helen and Ellen-- so we were right behind the van. Being first I couldn't get any sense of what we looked like but with someone else driving Mike crouched in the open back door of the van and took pictures. It was a nice slow trip with the police ahead of us and stopping traffic as we came onto Route 1 to Wallis Sands State Park and then in a moment it was all over. Like many others John and I were greeted by friends and family. Cyclists went down onto the beach-- on such a hot day crowded with regular beach people-- dipped their bikes and took pictures. The time for tearful farewells and hugs was pretty much at an end for those of us not staying at the hotel another night. We gathered our luggage from the truck and went out to lunch with my friend Liz, my sisters Tamar and Kate, and my daughter Margaret. My sister Sybil and her significant other Peter had been at the beach to greet us but left before lunch because Peter was setting off on his own adventure-- a drive to Alaska. Got home to Northport at about 6:30 and had an ecstatic reunion with Dog Darby and a lovely evening settling in to being home!

Day 49: Brattleboro, VT to Manchester, NH

After my glorious day of cycling to Brattleboro and my dinner with friends and family, this day turned into something of an ordeal. Perhaps worried about a ride with 5600 feet of climbing (yesterday was only 5000), perhaps because of the iced espresso I had yesterday, I had a restless and wakeful night and got up feeling less than cheery. In addition, I was reluctant to leave early because the N.H. line was only a mile from the hotel and I wanted to get a picture with John. All things considered it was not a good start to the day.

One nice thing that happened was that our friends Rich and Loranne Block came out to meet us at the first SAG, mile 36. It happened to be on Route 9 in Antrim, only a short distance from where they live. Sadly, I couldn't relax and chat for long because I was so panicked about the ride ahead. It was one hilly ride. Nan said "whoever designed this route had a cruel, cruel heart". The nice thing was that the route took us off the beaten track and through several small N.H. villages. There may have been a couple of hills in that part of the state that Mike didn't manage to get in but not many. Up, down, up down and until finally at mile 79 we reached the motel in Manchester. I thought I was completely ridden out but when John told me there was a Dairy Queen and when I remembered that my days of eating ice cream were coming to an end, I managed a little extra riding .

That evening was our final banquet and a riotous time was had by all. The group has been together many hours a day for many days and managed to find a lot of laughs in our shared feat of endurance. Everyone got an award-- for me and John it was "couple who arrived furthest apart". In Mike's speech he "honored" me by saying that if he had seen ten people on the street and had to choose which one could ride a bicycle across the country it sure would not have been Dereka! One more day to the beach!

Day 48: Latham, NY to Brattleboro, Vermont

Before I met John I lived in Troy and worked at Russell Sage College-- that was 1974-1979. Nothing about the area was familiar to me as I rode in and I began to doubt my memory but a few miles out of the motel in Latham we turned onto 19th Street in Watervliet and everything clicked into place. Ahead of me I could see the bridge across the Hudson and the buildings of Troy. I was riding with Nan who swooped over onto the sidewalk to get across the river and that turned out to be a great move. The sidewalk funneled us away from the tunnel that goes under the Russell Sage campus and I knew exactly where to turn to make a nostalgic side trip past my old apartment on Second Street and get us back on route uphill out of the city.

We followed Route 2 east, a route I drove many times while I was living in the area. At mile 12.6, however, we were routed on to Route 278, a gorgeous road with less traffic and one I had never taken. The riding was splendid and even though I knew I was not yet in Vermont, it sure felt like Vermont to me. At mile 32 we turned east on Route 7 toward the Vermont line and Bennington. Then followed the challenge of the day-- a ten mile climb. I felt great and found the climb very doable. We were rewarded with a great descent into Wilmington-- fast but not frightening. John waited for me there so we had a coffee and pastry break and started climbing again up Hogback Mountain.

The first time I ever went downhill skiing was at Hogback-- I was a teenager and did not know how to ski and it was something of a disaster; the kind you laugh about even at the time. The ski place is no more-- crumbling buildings overgrown with vegetation and the remains of an old lift sagging against the hillside. Made me realize that many many years have passed! From the top we had a "100 mile view" before more fun and fast downhill into Brattleboro.

In Brattleboro we were delighted to meet up with our daughter Eliza and her husband Michael, my stepmother Babs, my niece Viney and her husband Francisco, my old high school friend Don Sluter and a genealogy pal Joann Nichols. We all had dinner together and you will understand why my blog has not appeared until four days later.

Friday, August 6, 2010

This sign gave us a laugh

Day 47: Little Falls to Latham, New York

After my somewhat ho hum reaction to yesterday's ride I was thrilled to find myself in bicycle fantasy land today. The humidity broke and the morning was lovely. We left Little Falls on Route 5S East and climbed for some time to a ridge that afforded lovely views north into the Mohawk River Valley. While the climbing was demanding, the scenic reward was bountiful and the descent lots of fun-- fast but not scary. I spent the whole ride thinking that east or west, east is best (and simultaneously remembering that nearly everyone thinks their homeland is superior to all others). Just miles and miles of lovely green, pastoral landscape-- also an immense Target warehouse in Amsterdam and the massive G.E. campus in Schenectady with rolling lawns and manicured loveliness. Then as the icing on the cake, we were routed on to a bike path at mile 49 and rode it until mile 71. Just three miles of the real world and we were at the hotel-- nice and early about 2:00.

Day 46: Liverpool to Little Falls, New York

One of the frequent debates among riders is whether it is better to be hot or wet. Most prefer hot but I definitely prefer wet. Today we had the opportunity to be both.

Heavy rain started at about mile 11 and lasted until mile 45-- more than two hours for most of us. Once it stopped, the route turned into a long steamy sauna that lasted until we hit Little Falls at mile 78.

Not much else to say about the ride. I was reminded of a teeshirt that read: Eat, Sleep, Pedal, Repeat. The lack of much to look at set me to reflecting on why I did the ride and why anyone does the ride. We haven't seen spectacular scenery since South Dakota and that was a long way back. We haven't had particularly interesting rides since Minnesota and Wisconsin and they seem a long way back as well. It seems to come down to physical challenge and the satisfaction of having ridden from Point A to Point B.

In the meantime most of us have fallen in love with the group. Think how seldom it is that one spends 50 days with 50 strangers engaged in a common enterprise. We look forward to the ride being over but are sad on that account as well.